Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 6.55 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.39 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
7 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic. See the methodology.

header1 Executive Summary

By Artyom Shraibman

Belarus is a consolidated, highly centralized authoritarian regime ruled by President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who marked 25 years in office in 2019. The president and his administration exercise unchallenged power in the country with no meaningful legislative or judicial checks. The year did not see any significant changes in the regime’s functioning or in the country’s political climate. However, the president did announce plans to revise the constitution, with a view toward increasing the role of the National Assembly (parliament) and the government. These intentions had not resulted in any decisions by year’s end.

Parliamentary elections took place in November 2019, ten months earlier than expected. This was done for political expedience: the authorities did not want to hold two campaigns—parliamentary and presidential—in 2020. Instead, the decision was made to cut short the tenure of the sitting National Assembly without meeting constitutional requirements for holding early elections.

The parliamentary campaign itself was held in a controlled, noncompetitive, and nontransparent manner. Electoral commissions, the bodies that administer the electoral process on all levels, were formed with even lower representation of the opposition than in previous elections. This allowed for procedural manipulations at all stages in the process, which independent observers had limited access to or the ability to protect. Some of the most prominent candidates, including the only two sitting opposition members in the parliament, were prohibited from running due to minor technical errors in their signature lists. A number of opposition candidates were deregistered; in some cases, candidates’ televised public addresses were censored for harshly criticizing the president or calling for his impeachment. Observers tracked widespread instances of fabrication used to inflate the actual turnout, which was reportedly low. Students and other state-dependent groups were forced to vote during “early voting”—a five-day period before the main election day with comparatively lax independent observation. The ballot count was traditionally nontransparent. No opposition candidates won seats in the new parliament. An international election observation mission (EOM) composed of observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe (CoE) issued a critical preliminary conclusion, noting official indifference to fundamental freedoms and a failure to meet international standards for democratic elections.

There were no nationwide or large-scale protests in 2019, apart from a series of demonstrations against integration with Russia in December, the largest of which had over 1,000 participants. Some local protests were met with a mix of pressure on protest leaders and concessions by authorities. Such an approach was not new, in principle, but the authorities used it more frequently in 2019. In January, the government also set charges for holding demonstrations. The fees were supposed to cover the costs of policing, medical support, and cleaning services. Yet, the large size of the fees appeared to be restrictive and forced several opposition groups to drop their plans for rallies. Administrative fines were a key tool for punishing unauthorized street activity, while arrests were used against protest leaders and notable activists.

The Belarusian civil society sector continued to operate amid challenging legal, political, and economic conditions. A law criminalizing the work of unregistered nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) was repealed and replaced with a milder administrative prohibition. Now, activists from unregistered groups do not face the threat of prison terms, but they still can be fined. In 2019, political pressure on independent trade unions and indiscriminate detentions of representatives of the Roma minority were reported.

Media freedom remained severely restricted in the country. Authorities retain full control over TV, radio, and most political newspapers. The volume of attacks against reporters for the Polish-based satellite TV channel Belsat declined as compared to past years. However, other independent outlets did not see such a decrease in pressure. The government imposed fines on editors and reporters from nonstate media, and persecuted oppositional bloggers. On occasion, journalists were detained and their equipment was damaged. The authorities expanded the scope of anti-extremist legislation, which, given the vague definitions of some legal provisions, could be used to suppress freedom of expression. A popular anti-Lukashenka documentary produced by oppositional blogger Stsiapan Putsila (aka “NEXTA”) was deemed extremist material and banned.

Local governance in Belarus is highly centralized. The president personally appoints and dismisses all heads of territorial entities down to the district level. Several senior officials publicly supported the idea of transferring more powers to the local level. The government is also considering reforming the country’s administrative structure to spur regional development. However, no actual reforms that would expand the role of local self-government were undertaken in 2019. The president and his administration are reluctant to delegate powers to lower levels of governance for fear of losing control and out of a lack of trust in the management capabilities of local authorities.

The Belarusian justice system operates under the executive’s near total control. Apart from half of the 12 Constitutional Court justices, the president appoints and dismisses all judges in the country. Beyond formal levers of control, the executive interferes with judicial processes informally. Courts retain some discretion when it comes to routine cases; however, in politically motivated trials, the outcomes are essentially predetermined. Belarus remained the only country in Europe that applies the death penalty. The judiciary took certain steps, however, to become more transparent and to digitalize its operations. One of the decisions adopted in 2019 required all open trials to be recorded on video starting from January 1, 2020.

The government and law enforcement agencies remain the chief sources of data on corruption, as the state system is profoundly inaccessible to civil society and the media. President Lukashenka has continuously identified combatting corruption as a key source of his public support; he regularly updates anticorruption legislation and maintains discipline among bureaucrats by officially celebrating anticorruption criminal cases. The incidence of petty bribery is limited due to the high punitive risks it carries. In 2019, anticorruption legislation was further toughened, effectively prohibiting the release of convicted ex-officials on parole. Still, the CoE’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), in an unprecedented move in March, declared Belarus noncompliant with the organization’s anticorruption standards.

In 2020, a presidential election is scheduled to take place in Belarus. The incumbent Lukashenka plans to run for a sixth consecutive term. The authorities have announced they will not change the electoral legislation before the campaign. Traditionally, presidential elections in Belarus are periods of stress and mobilization for the political establishment and security agencies. Therefore, under these conditions, it is safe to expect no progress, or even a relative setback, in terms of political, civil, and media freedoms in the country in the coming year.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.251 7.007
  • As in previous years, Belarus remained a consolidated, highly centralized authoritarian regime ruled by President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who marked 25 years in office in 2019. The president and his administration exercise unchallenged power in the country, with no meaningful legislative or judicial checks. The year itself did not see any significant changes in the regime’s functioning or in the country’s political climate. The government, run by the market-oriented prime minister Siarhei Roumas, has failed to deliver notable economic reforms due to the president’s reluctance to allow a painful economic transformation, especially before two election campaigns.
  • In foreign policy, Belarus deepened its dialogue with the European Union (EU) and the United States. Washington and Minsk announced an exchange of ambassadors after an 11-year break.1 The lack of domestic human rights progress limited the potential of this rapprochement. On the other front, Minsk engaged in tense negotiations with Moscow on the terms of future integration and economic relations. During this process, the authorities increasingly adopted pro-sovereignty rhetoric. Belarus continued to pitch itself as a venue for regional peace talks and offered to deploy peacekeepers in war-torn eastern Ukraine.2
  • In March, President Lukashenka announced plans to change the constitution.3 His intention is to delegate some powers from the president to the government and the parliament, as well as change the electoral system to increase the role of political parties, which are essentially invisible due in part to Belarus’s first-past-the-post system for parliamentary and local elections. The Constitutional Court was tasked with preparing proposals for these changes and passed them to Lukashenka by the end of the year.4 Yet, no further steps were taken in this direction in 2019. President Lukashenka himself explained that he did not wish to leave his future successor with the current president-centered constitution.5 He set 2024 as a deadline for constitutional revision.6 It is too early to say if plans for this revision and a transition of power will come to pass in the foreseeable future or if the president will be distracted by domestic crises and thus postpone the changes.
  • There were no nationwide or large-scale protests in 2019, apart from a series of demonstrations against integration with Russia in December, the largest of which had over 1,000 participants (see “Civil Society”). Consequently, the government had no need to resort to mass repression, and the number of administrative arrests and fines for political activities actually fell in comparison to 2018.7 At the same time, there were instances of preventive detentions of activists before weekly protests against the construction of a battery factory in the city of Brest.8 Several criminal cases were opened against the activists and leaders of this local movement.9 The repression subsided by summer, when local and central authorities took the protesters’ side and halted the factory’s construction.
  • The only two sitting opposition members of parliament (MPs), who won their seats in 2016, were barred from running in the 2019 parliamentary elections. No new opposition representatives entered the National Assembly. The number of MPs representing political parties increased from 16 in 2016 to 21 in 2019 (the remaining MPs are unaffiliated), with the Belarusian Communist Party receiving 11 out of 110 mandates. Evidently, this result constitutes another move toward increasing the role of parties, albeit completely loyalist ones.
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 1.251 7.007
  • The government introduced no changes to electoral legislation in 2019, which, for a long time, has been criticized by international and domestic observation groups for imposing “restrictions on voter and candidacy rights, insufficient safeguards for voting and counting, as well as limitations on observer rights.”1 In April, President Lukashenka foreclosed the possibility of electoral reform, claiming that it should not be done during election years.2 The head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Lidziya Yarmoshina, claimed that the upcoming revision of the constitution might entail the modernization of the electoral system.3
  • The system currently in place allows the executive to control all stages of the electoral process. Electoral commissions on all levels are formed by executive committees (local administration bodies) that allow only minimal opposition representation.
  • On August 5, the president set November 17 as the date for parliamentary elections.4 The opposition and human rights groups criticized the move because it effectively cut short the term of the sitting National Assembly by nearly 10 months.5 CEC head Yarmoshina explained that holding two elections in 2020—both parliamentary and presidential—would “over-politicize” society.6
  • During the parliamentary campaign, just 2.5 percent of the members of district and territorial commissions represented the opposition.7 These commissions tabulate the final results after receiving vote totals from base-level precinct electoral commissions (PECs).
  • The share of opposition in the PECs fell to new lows as compared to previous parliamentary elections. PECs do the vote-counting, and most instances of nontransparency and fraud are usually reported on this level. Out of 63,646 PEC members, only 21 (0.033 percent) were from opposition parties (this figure was 61 in 2012 and 53 in 2016). A selective approach to the appointment of PEC members was evident: progovernmental parties and public associations saw 96 to 97 percent of their nominees included in PECs, while the enrollment rate for opposition parties was 4.2 percent. Most of the rejected enrollments were either explained by the opposition nominees’ “lack of experience in electoral commissions” or not explained at all.8
  • One could become a candidate by collecting 1,000 signatures, being nominated by a party, or being nominated by a “labor collective” (used by state-backed nominees); 78 percent of those nominated by opposition parties and 90 percent of those nominated by loyalist parties were granted registrations.9 Among those nominees who collected signatures, the rejection rate was much higher, that is, 47 percent (37 percent in 2016).10 Some of the most prominent opposition politicians, including the two sitting opposition MPs, Anna Kanapatskaya and Alena Anisim, were denied registration due to technical mistakes and printing errors in their signature collection lists.11 In total, 14 candidates were deregistered, a stark increase from only 1 deregistration in both the 2012 and 2016 campaigns.12 Several were deregistered after their TV appearances were censored because they had directly criticized the president or for minor election procedure violations (like sharing their business cards with voters instead of handing them duly printed leaflets that conformed with the electoral code).
  • Independent observers reported widespread fabrication by PECs in order to inflate the real turnout.13 One of the most widely used methods of inflating the turnout was forcing students who live in state-owned dormitories to vote during early voting.14 According to the CEC, after five days of early voting, the turnout reached a record 35.8 percent.15
  • During the voting, about 70 observers were removed from polling stations; this was a record number, as even officials admitted.16 Some opposition-affiliated observers were detained by police for demanding a recount.17 Several instances of alleged ballot stuffing were reported by media,18 domestic observers,19 and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observers.20 The ballot count was traditionally nontransparent, as the various commissions only reported their final calculations and no meaningful independent control in counting ballots was allowed.
  • The OSCE ODIHR mission concluded that the elections “proceeded calmly but did not meet important international standards for democratic elections.” The mission also noted an overall “disregard for fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression.”21
  • 1“Belarus, Parliamentary Elections, 11 September 2016: Final Report”, OSCE, 8 December 2016,
  • 2“Избирательное законодательство в Беларуси будет меняться только после изменения Конституции - ЦИК” [Electoral legislation in Belarus will change only after changing the Constitution - CEC], Interfax news agency, 30 July 2019,
  • 3Ibid.
  • 4“Belarus President sets dates for parliamentary elections in Belarus”, Official website of the President of the Republic of Belarus, 5 August 2019,…
  • 5“Нарушает ли Лукашенко Конституцию, назначая выборы в парламент на 2019 год?” [Does Lukashenka violate the Constitution by calling parliamentary elections for 2019?], European radio for Belarus, 23 April 2019,…
  • 6“Лидия Ермошина: парламентские выборы 2019 года досрочными не будут” [Lydia Ermoshina: parliamentary elections in 2019 will not be early elections],, 30 April 2019,…
  • 7“Аналітычная справаздача па выніках назірання за фарміраваннем тэрытарыяльных і акруговых выбарчых камісій” [Analytical report on the results of monitoring of the formation of territorial and district election commissions], Human rights center Viasna, 4 September 2019,
  • 8“Аналітычная справаздача па выніках назірання за фарміраваннем участковых выбарчых камісій” [Analytical report on the results of monitoring the formation of precinct election commissions], Human rights defenders for free elections, 4 October 2019,
  • 9“Аналітычная справаздача па выніках назірання за вылучэннем і рэгістрацыяй кандыдатаў” [Analytical report on the results of monitoring the nomination and registration of candidates], Human rights defenders for free elections, 22 October 2019,
  • 10Ibid.
  • 11“Не толькі Анісім і Канапацкай. Каму і чаму адмоўлена ў рэгістрацыі кандыдатамі?” [Not only Anisim and Konopatskaya. Who and why was refused the registration as a candidate?], Human rights defenders for free elections, 17 October 2019,
  • 12“Дэградацыя палітычнай барацьбы і татальныя фальсіфікацыі. Праваабаронцы падвялі вынікі назірання за парламенцкімі выбарамі” [Degradation of political struggle and total rigging. Human rights defenders announced results of parliamentary election observation], Human rights defenders for free elections, 18 November 2019,
  • 13“«Право выбора»: явка избирателей в пяти округах не достигла 50%” [“The Rignt to Choose”: turnout in five districts haven’t reached 50%],, 18 November 2019,…
  • 14“Аналітычная справаздача па выніках назірання за выбарамі ў Палату прадстаўнікоў Нацыянальнага сходу” [Analytical report on the results of monitoring of election into House of Representatives of the National Assembly], Human rights center Viasna, 18 November 2019,
  • 15“Досрочное голосование на выборах в Палату представителей завершено. Явка составила 35,77%” [Early voting on the House of Representatives election is over. The turnout is 35,77%], ONT, 16 November 2019,…
  • 16“Лидия Ермошина: 70 наблюдателей удалили с избирательных участков за нарушения закона” [Lydzia Yarmoshna: 70 observers were removed from polling stations for violations of the law], ONT, 24 November 2019,…
  • 17“В Минске на одном из участков задержан активист инициативы Legalize Belarus Петр Маркелов” [The Legalize Belarus initiative activist Piotr Markelau is detained at a polling station in Minsk],, 17 November 2019,…
  • 18“Как происходит подсчет голосов. 20 фото, по которым вы поймете все [How was the vote count done. 20 pictures that will tell you everything], Nasha Niva, 18 November 2019,
  • 19“«Откуда у вас столько бюллетеней?» Наблюдатель в Бресте снял на видео попытку вброса” [“Where have you got so many ballots from?” The observer in Brest recorded an attempted ballot stuffing], TUT.BY, 13 November 2019,
  • 20“Statement of preliminary findings and conclusions. Republic of Belarus – Early Parliamentary Elections, 17 November 2019” , OSCE, 17 November,
  • 21“Statement of preliminary findings and conclusions. Republic of Belarus – Early Parliamentary Elections, 17 November 2019” , OSCE, 17 November,
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 1.752 7.007
  • Formally, it is possible to register a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Belarus. According to official data, more than 3,000 public associations, 15 political parties, and 28 trade unions were operating in Belarus as of October 2019.1 In practice, many political and legal restrictions limit the ability of NGOs, and civil society in general, to function. They include complicated and often arbitrary registration processes, high penalties for activity without registration, restricted access to foreign funding, and unequal treatment by the government.
  • In July 2019, the infamous Article 193.1 of the criminal code, which criminalizes the activities of unregistered NGOs, became invalid.2 Since 2005, 18 individuals have received various penalties under this article, while dozens more activists were officially threatened with prosecution by law enforcement.3 Criminal responsibility for the activities of unregistered NGOs was replaced by administrative liability, which can result in fines up to $630. The Ministries of Interior and Justice can issue these fines without a court ruling. No such instances were reported in 2019.
  • Amendments to legislation on mass events entered into force in January 2019. These scrapped the need to receive permission for organizing demonstrations in specifically defined locations.4 Local authorities designate these locations, which are usually in remote districts, like desolated parks. Following the president’s instruction, the authorities did not permit an opposition rally on March 25 (Freedom Day) in the center of the capital Minsk, forcing some organizers to move celebrations to the city of Hrodna (Grodno).5 More than 15 activists and musicians who tried to hold unauthorized events that day were detained, either preemptively or on the spot.6 All but three were released by the end of the day and subsequently fined. The government also set fees for holding mass events. The money is supposed to cover the cost of policing, medical support, and cleaning services.7 The size of the fee exceeds $4,500 for large demonstrations. This restriction forced several opposition groups to drop their plans for protest rallies, including the annual Chernobyl Way, due to a lack of resources.8 When those involved in organizing Freedom Day celebrations in Minsk refused to pay their fees because the police detained two activists, the interior ministry forced them to do so via a court order.9
  • In December, unauthorized protests against integration with Russia erupted in Minsk and other cities (including Hrodna, Pinsk, and Lida). More than 1,000 people took part in the largest rally in Minsk on December 20.10 Police neither intervened in the protests nor arrested attendees. However, by the end of the month, the leaders of the movement were punished with 5 to 15 days of detention (in 12 cases) and fines (in more than 70 cases).11 The repression continued into January 2020, despite the suspension of demonstrations.
  • In May 2019, the justice ministry established a working group on amendments to the laws on public associations and political parties. An opposition politician, Ihar Barysau, and the head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Aleh Hulak, were invited to join the working group.12 The amendments were mostly technical in nature. When adopted, they will update and simplify registration procedures for public associations and political parties but also require them to publish financial reports. After criticism from civil society, the authorities dropped the most controversial proposed amendment, which would have introduced a limit on how much NGOs may spend on employee salaries.13
  • On May 16, dozens of Roma were detained and reportedly beaten during police raids on two Roma-populated villages near the city of Mahileu (Mogilev)14 as part of an investigation into the death of a traffic officer who was later found to have committed suicide. Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich bluntly refused to apologize,15 but he later resigned and was criticized for the “Roma incident” by the president.16 However, no legal remedies followed the raids, as the Prosecutor General’s Office concluded that ethnic profiling was justified given the information the police had at the moment.17 The Roma community faces pervasive discrimination in Belarus, especially regarding employment and ethnic profiling by police, which were reported by 80 percent of Roma respondents in a 2019 survey.18
  • In April, the largest independent labor union at the Belaruskali state-run enterprise reported unprecedented pressure by administrators on its members, who were threatened with termination if they did not leave the union. More than 600 of the union’s 4,000 union members left.19 The administration of Belaruskali denied any involvement in the mass exodus. Earlier, in January, the government registered an independent local trade union for the first time after activists complained to the International Labour Organization (ILO).20
  • Authorities continued to invite civil society organizations (CSOs) to meetings of the Belarus-EU Human Rights Dialogue21 and the Belarus-EU Coordination Group.22 NGO representatives were able to voice their opinions in these forums, though some of them reported being excluded from the most sensitive parts of the discussions.23
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 1.251 7.007
  • Independent media in Belarus continued to operate in a hostile political and legal environment amid strained financial conditions. In addition to full control over TV, radio, and most political newspapers, the government tightened its grip over online media and free speech in general. At the same time, the scale of repression against individual journalists decreased in 2019 as compared to previous years.
  • On March 4, Maryna Zolatava, the editor-in-chief of the most popular Belarusian independent news portal,, was found guilty of “executive inaction” in the “BelTA” case.1 Altogether, 15 journalists and editors from nonstate media had been subjected to prosecution in the second half of 2018 as part of this case for allegedly using unduly obtained passwords to access the newsfeed of the state news agency, BelTA. Of these, 14 were released from criminal liability after admitting wrongdoing and paying fines. Zolatava was tried for failing to stop her subordinates from using the BelTA passwords, and ultimately was fined and ordered to pay $6,800 for BelTA’s legal costs. The case was widely seen as politically motivated and interpreted as an attempt to punish and other independent media for their growing popularity.
  • Defamation is criminalized in Belarus, where the law prescribes harsher punishments when officials or the president are defamed (up to two years in prison in the latter case). On April 9, police raided the Minsk office of the Polish-based satellite TV channel Belsat and seized its equipment as part of a criminal investigation into alleged libel against a Belarusian official.2 This case had not been closed by year’s end. In November, a court fined the owners of the popular opposition website and a regional outlet, Vecherny Bobruisk, for discrediting the honor, dignity, and business reputation of the head of the Slonim District Executive Committee.3 These media republished a defamatory post by the popular blogger Stsiapan Putsila (aka “NEXTA”) on his Telegram channel. NEXTA was also fined, but since he lives in Poland, the state cannot enforce this sanction.
  • Reporters from Belsat and Radio Racyja (also headquartered in Poland) continued to be harassed and persecuted for working in Belarus without accreditation, which the government refuses to grant. However, the intensity of the harassment significantly decreased, with journalists fined 44 times in 2019 as compared to 118 times in 2018.4
  • Several criminal cases were launched against bloggers during the year. In March, video blogger Andrei Pavuk, from the town of Aktsiabrski, was detained and charged with falsely reporting a bomb threat at a local executive committee building. The charges were dropped a month later.5 When Pavuk attempted to get compensation for moral harm through the courts, he received anonymous threats.6 Another anticorruption blogger, Siarhei Piatrukhin, was found guilty of insulting police officers and ordered to pay the equivalent of $8,630 in April.7
  • On December 26–27, video bloggers Siarhei Tsihanouski and Dzmitry Kazlou were detained for 15 days each after they livestreamed protests in Minsk against Belarusian integration with Russia (see “Civil Society”).8 Both vloggers were arrested for taking part in an unauthorized mass event.
  • Authorities obstructed the work of journalists during the parliamentary campaign. Reporters from the German TV channel ARD were briefly detained when they attempted to cover an opposition rally in Minsk on November 8.9 Unidentified men suspected to be plainclothes police officers damaged camera equipment belonging to RFE/RL as its reporters covered another demonstration on November 16.10
  • At least two activists were fined for sharing anarchist materials on social media.11 The authorities also expanded the scope of anti-extremist legislation, introducing criminal penalties for the rehabilitation of Nazism and administrative penalties for sharing extremist symbols.12 New restrictions also prohibit the display of symbols used by groups that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. If interpreted literally, this provision outlaws the white-red-white flag commonly used by the opposition.13
  • According to the IREX 2019 Media Sustainability Index, the quality and financial health of Belarus’s independent media has improved.14 In addition, the year saw a significant increase in the popularity of political bloggers on Telegram and YouTube. One of the most prominent, NEXTA, produced a documentary critical of President Lukashenka, which garnered more than 2 million views on YouTube and other platforms. This film was later designated extremist material,15 which resulted in a ban on the documentary’s further distribution.
  • 1“TUT.BY chief editor Maryna Zolatava convicted and fined $3,825”, Human rights center Viasna, 4 March 2019,
  • 2“Minsk Police Raid and Search BELSAT Office on Slander Charges. The office has been crushed”, Belarusian Association of Journalists, 9 April 2019,…
  • 3“За публікацыю паста з тэлеграм-каналу NEXTA Калінкіна павінна сплаціць 4653 рублі” [Kalinkina will have to pay 4653 rubles for publishing the post from telegram-channel NEXTA], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 18 November 2019,
  • 4“Штрафы журналістам па арт. 22.9 КаАП (табліца) АБНАЎЛЯЕЦЦА” [Fines to reporters under Art. 22.9 of the Administrative Code (table) updated], Belarusian Association of Journalilsts, 19 October 2019,…
  • 5“Блогера больше не обвиняют в минировании, но конфискованную технику не возвращают” [The blogger is no longer accused of planting explosives, but confiscated equipment is not returned], Human rights center Viasna, 17 April 2019,
  • 6“«Скажы дзякуй, што нічога табе не падкінулі». Блогеру Андрэю Павуку даслалі пагрозы і абразы напярэдадні суда” ["Say “thank you”, that you have not been planted with anything." Blogger Andrew Pawuk receives threats and insults before the trial], Belarusian Association of Journalilsts, 24 September 2019,…
  • 7“Блогер Петрухин должен заплатить более 4000 долларов штрафа за оскорбление милиционера” [Blogger Petrukhin must pay more than $4,000 for insulting a policeman], Belarusian Association of Journalilsts, 18 April 2019,…
  • 8“Блогера Ціханоўскага затрымалаі па дарозе ў Мінск і арыштавалі на 15 сутак. ВІДЭА” [Blogger Tsihanouski detained on the way to Minsk and arrested for 15 days. VIDEO], 27 December 2019, Belarus Association of Journalists,…; “Відэаблогер Дзмітрый Казлоў не выйшаў на волю пасля арышту” [Video-blogger Dmitry Kozlov not released after arrest], 10 January 2020, Belarusian Association of Journalists,…
  • 9“У пятніцу ў Мінску затрымлівалі здымачную групу нямецкага тэлеканала ARD” [The camera crew of the German ARD TV channel was detained in Minsk on Friday], Belarusian Association of Journalists, 8 November 2019,…
  • 10“Невядомыя напалі на здымачную групу Радыё Свабода падчас шэсьця мітынгоўцаў да ЦВК. ВІДЭА” [Unknown people assaulted the camera crew of Radio Liberty during the march to the CEC], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 16 November 2019,
  • 11“Жыхара Гомеля за рэпост «экстрэмісцкай» інфармацыі прысудзілі да штрафу” [Resident of Homel was fined for the repost or "extremist" information fined], Human rights center Viasna, 22 March 2019,; “Чарговая адміністрацыйная справа за посты ў сацсетках” [Another administrative case for posts in social networks], Human rights center Viasna, 29 January 2019,
  • 12“Парламент проголосовал за усиление ответственности за экстремизм и пропаганду нацизма” [Parliament voted to increase punishment for extremism and Nazi propaganda], TUT.BY, 13 June 2019,
  • 13“Об изменении Закона Республики Беларусь

    «О противодействии экстремизму»” [About the Change in the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Countering Extremism”], National Legal Internet-Portal of the Republic of Belarus, 26 July 2019,

  • 14“Media sustainability index 2019”, IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board), 6 May 2019,…
  • 15“«Были дискуссии, разные мнения». Фильм блогера Nexta про президента признали экстремистским” [There were discussions, different opinions." Nexta’s film about the president acknowledged extremist material], TUT.BY, 6 December 2019,
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.251 7.007
  • Local governance in Belarus is highly centralized. The president personally appoints and dismisses all heads of territorial entities down to the district level.1 Local self-government bodies—namely, local councils—are financially and legally constrained; they act as consultative adjuncts to local executive committees, whose decision-making power is, in turn, directed by the central government.2 Local councils approve local budgets, rates of local taxes, and rules for the use of local public property, while the executive committees prepare draft budgets, perform actual management tasks, and represent their regions in relationship with other state bodies.3 Local councils have no influence over the appointment of heads of the local executive committees. Belarus is the only European nation that is not a party to the European Charter of Local Self-Government.4
  • Local authorities get most of their funding from the central government. The allocation of funding is based on “social standards” set by various ministries, which often do not account for local specificities.5 The economic gap between the capital Minsk and the regions continued to grow in 2019.6
  • Local authorities fully implement the central government’s repressive measures, restricting freedoms of assembly and association. For example, the Brest District Executive Committee on numerous occasions prohibited rallies against the construction of a battery plant.7 When anti-construction activists tried to register an NGO, their application was rejected on technicalities.8 Unlike in 2018, the Minsk City Executive Committee in 2019 did not allow the opposition to celebrate its main political holiday—Freedom Day—in the city center, forcing organizers to move the event to Hrodna (see “Civil Society”).9 Municipal authorities in Vitebsk did not permit local activists to hold an Immortal Regiment demonstration commemorating victims of WWII following President Lukashenka’s negative assessment of this movement.10 The Minsk City Executive Committee also refused to register the Immortal Regiment movement as a public association.11
  • Some individual heads of local executive committees took a more engaging approach to civil society in 2019. Brest mayor Alexander Rogachuk several times invited anti-construction activists to the city’s concert hall to discuss their demands.12 The head of the presidential administration, Natalya Kochanova, repeatedly called upon the heads of local executive committees to be fair and open to ordinary people, and to regularly meet with citizens in person.13
  • Several senior officials supported the idea of transferring more power to local levels of government. In April, President Lukashenka said the authorities would move toward a system with greater autonomy for local self-government bodies.14 In May, the head of the CEC spoke in favor of electing the heads of local executive committees and city mayors, who are currently elected by members of local councils (at the lowest level) or otherwise appointed by the president.15 These initiatives, however, have not progressed.16
  • The government is considering plans for reforming the administrative structure of the country, with one option involving its division into 18 counties instead of the current 6 oblasts.17 Officially, the idea is to stimulate regional development by bringing decision-making centers closer to more people, and the government stated that it would pursue these plans after the national census in late 2019.
  • 1“Президент сменил глав пяти районов Могилевской области. Рассказываем, где и кого” [The president replaced the heads of five districts of the Mogilev region. We tell where and whom], TUT.BY, 29 July 2019,
  • 2“Местное самоуправление в Беларуси” [Local government in Belarus], Leu Sapieha Foundation, 18 September 2019,Местное-самоуправление-в-…
  • 3“О некоторых вопросах местного управления и самоуправления. Указ Президента Республики Беларусь” [On some issues of local government and self-government. The edict of the president of the Republic of Belarus], National Legal Internet Portal of the Republic of Belarus, 22 February 2011,
  • 4“Details of Treaty No.122 European Charter of Local Self-Government”, Council of Europe, 19 October 2019,…
  • 5“Местные бюджеты: анализ состояния” [Local budgets: analysis of the condition], Nash Dom, 18 October 2019,
  • 6“Окно возможностей или последний шанс? Несколько идей о том, что помогло бы раскрыть потенциал белорусских регионов” [Window of opportunity or last chance? A few ideas on what would help unleash the potential of the Belarusian regions], KEF, 15 July 2019,
  • 7“Брестским активистам отказали еще в шести митингах против аккумуляторного завода” [Brest activists denied six more rallies against battery factory], TUT.BY, 18 August 2019,; “Брестский райисполком запретил проведение 5 мая митинга в Тельмах против аккумуляторного завода” [The Brest district executive committee has banned a rally on May 5 in Telmakh against the battery factory], TUT.BY, 2 May 2019,
  • 8“Противники аккумуляторного завода подали жалобу в суд на отказ в регистрации экологического объединения” [Opponents of the battery plant filed a lawsuit against the refusal to register an environmental association],, 28 August 2019,…
  • 9“Мингорисполком ответил на заявку оппозиции о проведении митинга на День Воли у Большого театра” [Minsk City Executive Committee responded to the opposition’s bid to hold a rally on Freedom Day at the Bolshoi Theater], TUT.BY, 7 March 2019,
  • 10“«Не представляется возможным». Власти запретили шествие «Бессмертного полка» в Витебске” ["Does not seem possible". Authorities banned the Immortal Regiment procession in Vitebsk], TUT.BY, 5 May 2019,
  • 11“«Бессмертному полку» в Беларуси отказывают в регистрации” [Immortal Regiment denied registration in Belarus],, 27 March 2019,…
  • 12“«Закрывайте!» Мэр Бреста позвал на разговор более 200 протестующих на площади противников завода АКБ” [“Shut it down” The mayor of Brest met more than 200 opponents of the battery factory for a conversation], TUT.BY, 9 June 2019,
  • 13“Кочанова: местной власти надо ориентироваться на нужды людей и принцип справедливости” [Kochanova: local authorities need to focus on the needs of people and the principle of justice], BelTA news agency, 18 January 2019,…
  • 14“Беларусь рассчитывает на развитие контактов с Советом Европы в сфере местного самоуправления - Лукашенко” [Belarus counts on developing contacts with the Council of Europe in the area of local self-government - Lukashenko], BelTA news agency, 29 April 2019,…
  • 15“Ермошина предложила выбирать глав сельских органов власти, а затем, возможно, и мэров городов” [Yarmoshyna proposed electing the heads of rural administrations, and then, possibly, mayors of cities], TUT.BY, 24 May 2019,
  • 16“Местное самоуправление: на пути к совершенствованию” [Local Government: Towards Improvement], BelTA news agency, 29 May 2019,…
  • 17“Вместо шести областей могут создать 18 округов. Посмотрите, как предлагают изменить регионы Беларуси” [Instead of six provinces, 18 counties can be created. See how Belarus regions are proposed to change], TUT.BY, 20 August 2019,
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.001 7.007
  • The judicial system in Belarus operates under the near-total control of the executive branch. Apart from 6 out of the 12 justices of the Constitutional Court, the president also appoints and dismisses all judges in the country.1 He regularly uses both of these powers,2 yet the judicial system did not undergo any changes in 2019. Judges retain some independence when it comes to routine cases, but in politically motivated trials, the outcome can be predicted based on the whims of the regime at any given moment.
  • Once a criminal case reaches court, the defendant will almost certainly be found guilty. Less than 0.3 percent of verdicts in criminal trials in 2019 were acquittals.3 For many years, representatives of the judiciary have attributed this consistently low figure to law enforcement agencies’ prudent work.4
  • Beyond formal control, the executive interferes with the judiciary informally. In several high-profile trials, courts issued rulings or overturned previous decisions right after President Lukashenka publicly expressed his position on them.5 The president also tasked the Constitutional Court with drafting a new version of the constitution, an atypical job for this body.6
  • The president frequently directs law enforcement agencies to launch criminal investigations and arrest mid-level officials and managers of state enterprises for poor performance.7
  • In August 2019, the president was involved in calming tensions between two law enforcement bodies (the Ministry of Interior and the Investigative Committee) and the judiciary. The head of the Supreme Court complained that law enforcement officers had tried to put pressure on judges in an infamous corruption case in which the defendant was twice found innocent after spending a total of more than four years in pretrial detention.8 Taking the side of the courts, President Lukashenka publicly shamed and castigated law enforcement officials for abusing their power.9 Most likely, the president took this hard line because the media had consistently covered and criticized law enforcement agencies for their overly punitive approach, which has included frequent and lengthy pretrial arrests of business executives, police brutality, and harsh antidrug policies.
  • Belarus is the only country in Europe that still applies the death penalty, a practice the CoE and EU consistently criticize.10 Executions are carried out in a secretive manner: relatives of executed convicts, whose bodies are buried in undisclosed locations, only learn about executions post factum.11 A number of executions take place while complaints are under active consideration in the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee. There were three known death sentences and three executions in 2019.12
  • During the year, the judiciary did take certain steps to become more transparent and to digitalize its operations. Press officers of the courts, including the Supreme Court, are now active online and on social media. In 2019, they continued to publish key decisions and regular overviews of judicial practice on their websites. Following the president’s instructions in April, the Supreme Court directed other courts to make audio and video recordings of all trials starting on January 1, 2020.13
  • 1“Статус и полномочия Президента Республики Беларусь” [Status and powers of the President of the Republic of Belarus], Official website of the President of the Republic of Belarus, 19 October 2019,
  • 2“О назначении и освобождении судей” [On the appointment and dismissal of judges], National Legal Internet Portal of the Republic of Belarus, 4 June 2019,
  • 3Katerina Borisevich, “Оправдательных приговоров в Беларуси в прошлом году стало больше — 0,3% вместо 0,2%” [The number of acquittals in Belarus increased last year: 0.3% instead of 0.2%],, 12 February 2020,
  • 4“Верховный суд объяснил, почему в Беларуси так мало оправдательных приговоров,” [The Supreme Court explains why there are so few acquittals in Belarus],, 31 July 2017,
  • 5“Эхо разговора у Лукашенко. Суд отменил решение по зданиям «РевиТара» у «Каменной Горки»” [Echo of conversation with Lukashenko. The court overturned the decision on the buildings of "ReviTara" at "Kamennaya Gorka"], TUT.BY, 31 May 2019,; “Минчанин выиграл дело против МВД — ему должны выплатить из бюджета более 2800 рублей” [Minsk resident won the case against the Ministry of Internal Affairs – over 2800 rubles should be paid to him from the budget], TUT.BY, 31 May 2019,
  • 6“Lukashenko: Belarus may amend Constitution or adopt a new one soon, BelTA news agency, 31 May 2019,…
  • 7“Лукашенко поручил снять с должностей всех виновных в ненадлежащих условиях хозяйствования в агрохолдинге "Купаловское"” [Lukashenko instructed to dismiss all those guilty of inappropriate business conditions at Kupalovskoye agricultural holding], SB-Belarus segodnya, 26 March 2019,…
  • 8“Валентин Сукало: Работники СК давили на судей во время процесса по делу Головача” [Valentin Sukalo: Investigators put pressure on judges during the trial in the Golovach case], TUT.BY, 20 August 2019,
  • 9“Совещание по вопросам качества работы правоохранительных органов при выявлении и расследовании преступлений” [Meeting on the quality of law enforcement in detecting and investigating crimes], Official website of the President of the Republic of Belarus, 20 August 2019,…
  • 10“Евросоюз и Совет Европы снова призвали Беларусь отменить смертную казнь” [The EU and the Council of Europe again called on Belarus to abolish the death penalty],, 9 October 2019,…
  • 11“Непрозрачность процедур, страдания родственников” [Non-transparent procedures, suffering of realtives], Say No to the Death Penalty campaign, 27 November 2019,
  • 12“У Віцебску вынесены чарговы смяротны прысуд” [Another death sentence in Vitebsk], Human rights center Viasna, 30 July 2019,; “Напярэдадні Еўрапейскіх гульняў у Мінску расстраляны Аляксандр Жыльнікаў” [On the eve of the European games in Minsk, Alexander Zhylnikav was executed], Human rights center Viasna, 13 June 2019,; “Belarus executes another death row prisoner”, Human rights center Viasna, 20 December 2019,
  • 13“Белорусские суды с 1 января переходят на полную аудио- и видеозапись судебных процессов” [Starting January 1, Belarusian courts switch to full audio and video recording of trials], BelTA news agency, 20 August 2019,…
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 2.002 7.007
  • The workings of the state in Belarus are closed and nontransparent. Independent media and NGOs lack access to public procurement data or income declarations for officials. Hence, civil society’s oversight of corruption is virtually nonexistent. Government and law enforcement agencies remain the chief sources of data on corruption. During the first six months of 2019, 463 persons were found guilty of various corruption-related crimes (a 5-percent decrease in comparison to the first half of 2018). Of these, 206 individuals received real prison terms, according to Supreme Court statistics.1
  • Since the beginning of his rule, President Lukashenka has viewed combatting corruption as his key source of legitimacy and public support. Hence, anticorruption legislation is regularly updated, and law enforcement agencies launch officially celebrated criminal cases to demonstrate their persistence in this area. Officials up to the highest echelons of power, and even the richest businesspeople, are not immune from being investigated and jailed for corruption. However, there is a formalized practice of securing President Lukashenka’s approval before detaining top-level officials from the so-called presidential personnel reserve for corruption or other charges.2 Petty bribery is not widespread due to the high risks it bears.
  • On May 10, the president adopted a decree that prohibits the release on parole of those individuals convicted of corruption.3 Presenting this decree to the National Assembly, Prosecutor General Aliaksandr Kaniuk proposed that all officials publish their income declarations, but this idea was not included in new legislation.4
  • A number of high-profile anticorruption investigations and trials occurred in 2019. The most notable was the so-called doctors case in which dozens of senior healthcare officials, including the Deputy Minister of Health, heads of hospitals, and businesspeople were put on trial and received prison terms for bribery in the procurement of medicine and medical equipment.5 Separately, in July, the president’s former assistant Siarhei Rauneika was sentenced to 12 years in prison for bribery.6 In late April, the former chief of the president’s security service and the deputy head of the Security Council, Andrei Vtsiurin, together with the head of the state corporation Beltelecom and about 10 others, were arrested for corruption.7
  • Belarus’s score in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index was 45 out of 100, putting it in 68th place out of 198 countries.8 This is a higher ranking than most post-Soviet nations but lower than most of the post-socialist countries of the EU. An independent poll of small and medium business owners in Belarus reported that corruption was perceived as an essential barrier to doing business by 19.5 percent of respondents (a small increase from 16.1 percent in 2018).9
  • In March, the CoE’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) declared Belarus noncompliant with the organization’s anticorruption standards.10 It was the first such declaration ever made by GRECO with respect to one of its member states. The organization reported that Belarus had failed to implement 20 out of 24 long-standing recommendations and that it had prevented the organization from publishing any evaluations of in-country anticorruption measures. GRECO concluded that it was hard to estimate the real scale of corruption in Belarus and criticized the extensive powers of the president, the lack of transparency in public administration, and insufficient guarantees of judicial and prosecutorial independence.

Author: Artyom Shraibman is a Belarusian political analyst and founder of the consultancy Sense Analytics. He contributes frequently to,, and He holds an LLB in International Law (Belarusian State University) and MSc in Politics and Communications (London School of Economics). Shraibman has worked as a political journalist in Belarus for over five years.


The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

  • 1“Сведения за первое полугодие 2019 года о числе привлеченных к уголовной ответственности и мерах уголовного наказания по уголовным делам о коррупционных преступлениях” [Information for the first half of 2019 on the number of prosecuted and criminal sanctions in criminal cases of corruption offenses], Official website of the Supreme Court of Belarus, 5 September 2019,
  • 2“«Без моего ведома их нельзя задерживать». Лукашенко про свой кадровый резерв из 850 персон” [“They cannot be detained without my knowledge.” Lukashenko – about his personnel reserve of 850 people], TUT.BY, 18 October 2019,
  • 3“Декрет Президента Республики Беларусь №3” [Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus No. 3 ], Official website of the President of the Republic of Belarus, 10 May 2019,
  • 4“«Борьба с коррупцией в стране – не разовая акция, а системная ежедневная работа». Генпрокурор Александр Конюк представил антикоррупционный декрет на заседании Палаты представителей Национального собрания” [“The fight against corruption in the country is not a one-time action, but a systematic daily work.” General Prosecutor Alexander Konyuk presented an anti-corruption decree at a meeting of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly], Thr website of the General Prosecutor’s office of Belarus, 23 May 2019,…
  • 5“«Врачи и бизнесмены свели общение к минимуму». Как развивалось «дело медиков» и изменило ли оно систему” [“Doctors and business people have kept communication to a minimum.” How did the “case of doctors” develop and did it change the system], TUT.BY, 4 September 2019,
  • 6“Экс-помощник президента Ровнейко получил 12 лет за взятки, главный боксер страны — два года” [Ex-Assistant to President Rovneiko got 12 years for bribes, chief boxer of the country – two years], TUT.BY, 5 July 2019,
  • 7“«Он не один, их порядка 10 человек». Вакульчик рассказал о деле экс-замглавы Совбеза Втюрина” [“He is not alone, there are about 10 of them”. Vakulchik spoke about the case of the former deputy head of the Security Council Vtyurin], TUT.BY, 3 September 2019,
  • 8“Corruption Perceptions Index 2019”, Transparency International, 23 January 2020,
  • 9“Опросы бизнеса” [Business surveys], IPM research center, 18 September 2019,
  • 10“Public declaration of non-compliance in respect of Belarus”, Council of Europe, 19 March 2019,…

On Belarus

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  • Global Freedom Score

    8 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    25 100 not free